US First Lady Wades Into Impeachment Fight To Defend Teen Son

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania waves as he arrives on board Airforce 1. LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

 

US First Lady Melania Trump on Wednesday publicly rebuked a scholar who used her 13-year-old son’s name to make a point during a hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into the president.

Constitutional law professor Pamela Karlan invoked Barron Trump, the son of Donald and Melania Trump, to demonstrate how the Constitution imposes distinctions between a monarch’s power and that of a president.

“The constitution says there can be no titles of nobility,” Karlan told lawmakers during the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on impeachment, which featured four constitutional scholars.

“So while the president can name his son ‘Barron,’ he can’t make him a baron.”

The pun led to chuckles in the congressional hearing room, but Melania Trump made clear it was no laughing matter.

“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics,” the first lady tweeted shortly afterwards.

“Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

President Trump retweeted his wife’s message to his 67 million followers.

As the row snowballed, Karlan quickly tried to stem the damage by expressing her regret.

“I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son,” she told the panel.

“It was wrong of me to do that,” she said, before adding that she also wished “the president would apologize, obviously, for the things that he’s done that’s wrong.”

For years, members of both political parties have agreed that the minor children of US politicians, particularly presidents, are off-limits.

During the hearing, Republican congressman Matt Gaetz snapped at Karlan, telling her that invoking Trump’s son “does not lend credibility to your argument. It makes you look mean.”

‘Unhinged, petty kook’

The incident quickly brought an onslaught of criticism from corners far beyond the hearing room, as Republicans and members of Trump’s re-election campaign voiced grave disapproval.

“Democrats have disgraced themselves by giving a platform to this unhinged, petty kook,” the campaign wrote on Twitter, while its deputy director of communications, Matt Wolking, called Karlan an “unhinged liberal professor” over the comments.

Lawmakers and Trump administration officials followed suit, echoing scathing assessments of Karlan’s words.

“Democrats are so desperate that one of their biased witnesses is now attacking the President’s 13-year-old son. Absolutely disgraceful,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wrote on Twitter.

Republican Congressman Markwayne Mullin, meanwhile, called the episode “reprehensible” while Trump Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway questioned why “Hunter Biden is off-limits but Barron Trump is not?”

The Trump impeachment investigation is looking into pressure Trump placed on Ukraine’s president to investigate 2020 election rival Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

During a speech Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence told an audience that “one of the Democrats’ witnesses actually used the president and first lady’s 13-year-old son to justify their partisan impeachment. Democrats should be ashamed.”

Melania Trump has taken up the cause of youth wellness in America, and last year launched a public awareness campaign to counter youth cyberbullying and drug use.

T-Mobile Launches 5G Service Across US

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 15, 2019, Illuminated 5G logos are on display during the 10th Global mobile broadband forum hosted by Chinese tech giant Huawei in Zurich. T-Mobile said on December 2, 2019 it became the first to launch 5G wireless service, across the United States, although it will be slower than some expected for the new generation of connectivity.
STEFAN WERMUTH / AFP

 

T-Mobile said Monday it became the first to launch 5G wireless service across the United States, although it will be slower than some expect for the new generation of connectivity.

The number three US carrier said its 5G network covers 200 million people and “goes through walls,” outperforming the limited 5G deployment of larger rivals Verizon and AT&T earlier this year.

“Today’s launch immediately catapults T-Mobile into the leadership position as the country’s biggest 5G network,” the company said in a statement.

It added that it will improve and expand its 5G network if it completes a planned merger with rival Sprint, a deal approved by US regulators but facing a court challenge by several US states.

READ ALSO: EU To Check How Facebook, Google Use Data

The T-Mobile system operates on a low band that offers speeds faster than current 4G networks but below the maximum promised for 5G but the company called it “real, standards-based 5G.”

“We built 5G that works for more people in more places, and this is just the start,” said Neville Ray, the company’s president of technology.

“With the New T-Mobile, we’ll see 5G speeds follow the same path as LTE, increasing exponentially over time. Plus, real broad and deep 5G will unleash whole new categories of innovation that will touch almost every area of the economy. The 5G future is bright, and it starts today.”

T-Mobile will be selling 5G handsets that can operate on the network including the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren and the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G.

The rollout of 5G is proceeding in several countries with a promise of spurring innovation in a variety of sectors.

The ultrafast connections could help in fields such as telemedicine, self-driving cars, and a variety of industrial applications, for example.

US authorities have banned the use of equipment from Chinese-based Huawei, the leading infrastructure maker, on concerns that its network could pose national security risks, a charge the company denies.

AFP

Plane Crash Kills Nine, Injures Three In South Dakota

 

A plane crash in the US state of South Dakota killed nine people, including two children, and injured three others on Saturday while a winter storm warning was in place, officials said.

The Pilatus PC-12, a single-engine turboprop plane, crashed shortly after take-off approximately a mile from the Chamberlain airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.

Among the dead was the plane’s pilot, Brule County state’s attorney Theresa Maule Rossow said, adding that a total of 12 people had been on board.

The three survivors had been taken to the hospital in Sioux Falls, she told US media.

The flight left the airport just before noon local time, with a destination of Idaho Falls Regional Airport in the western state of Idaho.

The FAA said investigators were en route to the crash site and that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would be in charge of the investigation.

The NTSB tweeted that it was “investigating today’s crash of Pilatus PC-12 near Chamberlain, SD.”

South Dakota is located in the Northern Plains, a region facing blizzard conditions as a storm blows eastward across the United States.

A winter storm warning remains in effect in Brule County until midday Sunday, the National Weather Service said, potentially including blowing snow that “could significantly reduce visibility.”

“The men and women of law enforcement, first responders and medical professionals should be commended in their heroic actions to rescue the victims in extreme weather conditions,” the state’s attorney office said.

Explosion Rocks Texas Chemical Plant

 

An explosion at a chemical plant in Texas early Wednesday sent a large fireball into the sky, media reports said, triggering a mandatory evacuation.

“Please be aware that there is a mandatory evacuation for everyone within a 1/2 mile of the TPC plant in Port Neches,” local fire officials said in a post on the Nederland Volunteer Fire Department’s Facebook page.

Dramatic videos and photos shared on social media showed a massive explosion, with one resident describing waking up to a huge boom and “glass all over us”.

Ryan Mathewson, who lives roughly two minutes from the plant with his family, told AFP: “We woke up to glass all over us and parts of the ceiling caved in, (and) doors blown in.”

The 25-year-old said they were “shook up and scared” following the blast.

County Judge Jeff Branick told local news site KFDM News that there were no injuries reported.

The site of the explosion is believed to be a petrochemical plant roughly 85 miles (135 kilometers) from Houston.

Ousted Navy Secretary Made Secret Deal With Trump – Pentagon Chief

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 21, 2019 Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher walks into military court in San Diego, California. SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP

 

The US defense secretary Monday defended the decision to sack his navy secretary, saying he went behind his back to make a deal with the White House over a convicted Navy SEAL’s future.

Mark Esper told reporters Richard Spencer, the Navy’s top civilian, admitted he had gone around Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley.

Esper and Milley were holding their own discussions with President Donald Trump last week about the SEAL’s case, which caused a rare public split between the Pentagon leadership and the US commander in chief over military justice.

“We were completely caught off guard by this information, and realized that it undermined everything we have been discussing with the president,” Esper said of Spencer’s secret talks.

“We have a chain of command that should be followed and that chain of command must be kept informed,” he said.

“Secretary Spencer broke these rules and thus lost my trust and confidence.”

Spencer was fired on Sunday amid a dispute over whether Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in a high-profile case but convicted of a lesser offense, should be demoted and expelled from the elite commando force.

Gallagher, a SEAL sniper, and medic, was originally accused of premeditated murder after allegedly stabbing to death a captured, wounded Islamic State fighter in Iraq in May 2017.

After Gallagher went on trial at the beginning of 2019, his case became a cause celebre in conservative media, championed especially by Fox News, and Trump voiced support for him.

In March the president intervened to have him taken out of a Navy jail and placed in a Navy hospital, where he had more freedom.

‘Distracting’

In July, he was acquitted of murder by a military jury, but convicted of having posed for a picture next to the body of a dead Islamic State fighter.

He was demoted and the navy moved to remove his official Trident pin, an insignia that signified he remained a member in good standing of the elite group.

Trump intervened again, to order the trident pin and rank restored, saying he would not be expelled from the force.

“Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned,” Trump tweeted.

Esper conformed that Spencer had threatened to resign over the case, which military experts said risked undermining confidence in the Pentagon’s system of justice.

But Esper said that while he and Milley sought a resolution with Trump, Spencer, a subordinate to both, had tried to cut his own deal with the White House.

Spencer “was completely forthright in admitting what had been going on,” Esper told reporters Monday.

In a letter to Trump on Sunday, Spencer explained his resistance to the president’s interference in the case.

He wrote that he could not “in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took… to support and defend the Constitution.”

He added that his responsibility was “to maintain good order and discipline” throughout the navy’s ranks. “I regard this as deadly seriously business,” he said.

Esper said Monday that the case had dragged on too long and had become “distracting.”

“Eddie Gallagher will retain his Trident as the commander in chief directed, and will retire at the end of this month,” he said.

US Navy Defies Trump, Proceeds In Effort To Expel SEAL

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 21, 2019 Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher walks into military court in San Diego, California. SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP.

 

The US Navy will proceed in its effort to oust a member of its elite SEAL commando unit, an official said Saturday, defying the wishes of President Donald Trump.

Edward Gallagher had been accused of war crimes in a high-profile case but was found guilty only of a lesser offense. On November 15, Trump reversed the demotion handed down to the 40-year-old under his conviction.

The Navy this week launched a procedure under which a peer review board could strip him and three other members of his unit of their Trident pins — effectively booting them from the SEALs.

READ ALSO: US Vice President Visits Troops In Iraq

A rankled Trump declared on Twitter on Thursday that “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.”

On Saturday, however, a senior Pentagon official who requested anonymity in order to speak freely said the “peer review board is proceeding.”

Whether Gallagher can remain in the unit or not will be determined by a panel of Navy SEAL officers that is set to convene in December.

The move came as multiple US news outlets reported that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer had threatened to resign over the affair, a claim he sharply denied.

“Contrary to popular belief, I am still here. I did not threaten to resign,” Spencer said, speaking at a forum in Halifax, Canada.

The US Navy chief said he did not consider Trump’s tweet to be a formal order.

“I need a formal order to act,” Spencer told reporters on the sidelines of the forum.

According to the US Constitution, the president is the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.

Gallagher, a 15-year Navy SEAL, had been accused in the stabbing death of a wounded Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in 2017, attempted murder of other civilians and obstruction of justice.

In July, he was acquitted of charges related to those accusations, but was convicted of a lesser charge — posing with the slain fighter’s body in a group picture with other SEALs.

As a result, he was demoted one rank, from chief petty officer to petty officer first class.

Gallagher’s case had been championed by Fox News, which the president follows closely.

Wilder KOs Ortiz to Retain WBC Heavyweight Title

 

Unbeaten Deontay Wilder landed a devastating right hand to knock out Luis Ortiz in the seventh round and retain his World Boxing Council heavyweight title.

The 34-year-old Wilder remains on course to achieve his goal of unifying all four heavyweight belts despite being largely outboxed by Ortiz before the explosive one-punch finish at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas late Saturday night.

“When I see the right shot, it is baby good night,” Wilder said.

Unbeaten in 43 fights, Wilder showed why he is widely regarded as the most destructive puncher in the resurgent heavyweight division.

The “Bronze Bomber” recorded his 10th straight title defence to equal Muhammad Ali who achieved the feat between 1974 and 1978. Only four heavyweights in the history of boxing have made more than 10 consecutive title defences.

Wilder waited patiently for his big moment and when it came, with just nine seconds left in the round, it was stunning.

He followed a pawing jab with a crushing straight right that sent Ortiz’s head snapping back and his body crashing into the ropes before landing on the canvas.

“That was a punch intended to hurt for sure,” said the American. “I got him at the right angle, my feet were planted perfectly and I felt the torque.”

Ortiz tried to get up but he clearly could not continue. The fight was officially stopped at 2:51 of the seventh.

Unification goal

It was a repeat of their 2018 fight where Wilder had battled adversity to deliver a 10th-round stoppage.

Wilder’s win now sets up another money-spinning rematch with Tyson Fury scheduled for February.

If he comes through that a unification showdown against the winner of next month’s rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz in Saudi Arabia for the other three major heavyweight belts could follow.

The fights with Fury, and Ruiz or Joshua, would generate millions for Wilder.

The last two years in heavyweight boxing have provided plenty of rousing match-ups and renewed enthusiasm in contrast to the previous 15 years or so which were dominated by the Klitschko brothers.

“I am looking for a unification bout,” Wilder said. “I want one champion, one face, one name that goes by Deontay Wilder.

“The heavyweight division is too small to have so many belts lingering around. It should be just be one champion and I think I am the perfect man for that job.”

The 40-year-old Ortiz, who was coming off three straight victories, was trying to become the first Cuban to win the world heavyweight title.

‘It was a war’

“This is boxing. I told everyone it wasn’t going to go 12 rounds,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz won most of the early rounds. He was the aggressor from the opening bell as he tagged Wilder with a left hook to the face in the opening round.

Ortiz also suffered a cut to his right temple area in the opening round due to an accidental clash of heads. But there was little blood flow and his corner did a good job of containing it as the rounds continued.

Both fighters were waiting for an opening in the second round and by the third Ortiz was building up points because he was the busier of the two.

Ortiz landed a big overhand shot in the fourth which excited the crowd and pumped up Wilder, who pounded his chest and yelled bring it on.

Ortiz’s plan to was to fight inside and pay attention to defence while Wilder was constantly looking for the knockout shot and hoping Ortiz would eventually tire himself out.

That transpired in the seventh as Ortiz walked straight into a punch that appeared to come out of nowhere, sending the Cuban into dreamland.

“I don’t care about losing rounds because it is a 12-round fight,” said Wilder. “I wanted to time my punches and do the right thing.

“I had to strategically move Ortiz. I had to time myself and calculate my punches. It was a war.”

Ortiz wasn’t so sure it should have been stopped even though he barely managed to wobble to his feet after the knockdown.

“I was clear-headed. When the count was at seven I was still trying to get up. Maybe the count was quicker than I thought,” he said.

United States Unveils $600million Aid For DRC Congo Transition

DRC Congo map.

 

The United States on Thursday unveiled a $600 million three-year aid package for the Democratic Republic of Congo to aid political transition in the wake of President Felix Tshisekedi taking office last January, US ambassador Mike Hammer said.

“Through USAID and other development assistance, the US government supports President Tshisekedi’s change agenda, including combatting corruption, improving human rights, advancing stability, attracting investment, and delivering results for the Congolese people,” a US embassy statement quoted Hammer as saying.

Hammer said the development assistance would underpin investment in “activities related to education, economic growth, health, anti-corruption, and good governance, environmental protection, and humanitarian assistance,” as Washington lifted assistance to these sectors to $1.25 billion since 2015.

USAID director Paul Sabatine signed the aid accord with DRC Minister for International Cooperation Pepin-Guillaume Manjolo Buakila.

France meanwhile announced it would boost “joint efforts”  to rid the east of the country of an Ebola epidemic via a roadmap prioritising urgent humanitarian aid, scientific partnerships and developing healthcare infrastructure, the French foreign ministry stated.

“France has committed to mobilising 71 million euros ($80 million) for healthcare in the DRC from 2018 to 2021,” a ministry statement read.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Tshisekedi in Paris earlier this month that France was disbursing 65 millions euros to modernise the DRC. Last May, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had announced on a visit to Kinshasa a “300 million euros programme” in overall assistance for Tshisekedi for a mandate lasting to 2023.

AFP

Triple-Double History For King James As Lakers Roll Thunder

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against Chris Paul #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of a game at Staples Center on November 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. SEAN M. HAFFEY / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

 

LeBron James became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double against every team in the league on Tuesday as the Los Angeles Lakers powered to victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

James finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a hard-fought 112-107 win over the Thunder at the Staples Center.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers scoring with 34 points while adding seven rebounds and four assists.

The win saw the Lakers improve to 12-2 to remain on top of the Western Conference.

But it was James’ 86th career triple-double that grabbed the headlines, the Lakers star sealing the milestone with an assist to Davis with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

James said the record would not have been possible without the support of coaches and team-mates over the years.

“I really don’t know what to think about it, to be honest,” James told reporters when asked about the feat.

“I’ve had some great team-mates and great coaches who’ve put me in position to facilitate. My team-mates have made shots for me throughout my career, coaches have put me in position to be successful.

“Hopefully in all those triple-doubles, I’ve got a winning record because that’s what’s most important. But it’s a pretty cool stat and I’m glad it happened.”

Houston’s Russell Westbrook is hard on James’ heels with triple-doubles against 29 of the league’s 30 teams.

Westbrook would complete his set with a triple-double against his former team Oklahoma City, who he left this year.

In New Orleans, Carmelo Anthony made an unsuccessful return to the NBA after more than a year out of the game as the Portland Trail Blazers slumped to a 115-104 loss to the Pelicans.

Anthony, whose move to Portland was confirmed by the team earlier Tuesday, finished with just 10 points after 23 minutes on the court after shooting just 4-of-14 from the field.

‘It was cool’

It was a largely frustrating night for the 35-year-old 10-time All-Star, with Portland giving up 17 turnovers as the Pelicans dominated a shaky Blazers defense.

Anthony, however, was simply happy to have made his return to the league, just over a year after he was released from the Houston Rockets.

“My body felt good, better than what I expected,” Anthony said. “It was cool.

“I just enjoyed being back out there, getting into the flow of things, the routines, putting the uniform on and getting up and down the court.”

Jrue Holiday led the scoring for the Pelicans with 22 points while Brandon Ingram had 21 points off the bench.

In Memphis, the crisis-hit Golden State Warriors ended a seven-game losing streak with a comfortable road victory over the Grizzlies, winning 114-95.

Although the Warriors continue to prop up the Western Conference standings with three wins against 12 defeats, the Dubs’ injury-ravaged line-up drew confidence from a deserved win.

Alec Burks finished with 29 points while Glenn Robinson III had 20 points as the Warriors scored a morale-boosting victory.

“We came in fighting,” Warriors veteran Draymond Green said. “We’ve been talking about improving our defense each and every time we step on this court. Tonight we showed it.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who has seen his roster decimated by injuries, hailed what he called a “great win.”

“I’m just happy for the guys,” Kerr said. “They’ve been playing hard and working hard. It’s good to see them rewarded because they’ve kept their energy up through all this. Losing sucks and losing seven in a row is miserable.”

Elsewhere Tuesday, Bogdan Bogdanovic had 31 points from the bench as the Sacramento Kings downed the Phoenix Suns 120-116.

Bogdanovic led the Sacramento scorers with Richuan Holmes adding 20 points and Nemanja Bjelica 17.

Devin Booker led the Phoenix scoring with 30 points while Kelly Oubre Jr and Mikal Bridges had 20 points apiece.

US No Longer Consider Israeli Settlements ‘Illegal’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a statement during a press conference at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2019.
JIM WATSON / AFP

 

The United States no longer considers Israeli settlements to be “inconsistent with international law,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday, in a shift in American foreign policy.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees… (the) establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said.

READ ALSO: UN Court To Hear Myanmar Genocide Case Next Month

Until now, US policy was based, at least in theory, on a legal opinion issued by the State Department in 1978, which said that establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territories went against international law.

The US shift could be interpreted as a boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to stay in power after failing to form a coalition government.

AFP

Two Decades Of School Mass Shootings In The US

 

Two students were shot dead and another three wounded when a classmate opened fire at their California high school, the latest in the United States’ relentless cycle of school mass shootings.

Here are America’s deadliest classroom gun massacres in the last two decades.

Columbine High School (1999)

Two teenagers from Columbine, Colorado, armed with an assortment of weapons and homemade bombs, went on a rampage at their local high school.

Twelve students and a teacher were killed during the April 20 massacre. Another 24 people were wounded.

Columbine, whose name has become synonymous with school shootings, is one of the first — and still among the deadliest — such shootings in the United States.

Virginia Tech (2007)

A South Korean student at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute opened fire on the Blacksburg, Virginia campus, killing 32 students and professors before committing suicide.

Thirty-three people were wounded.

The gunman had apparently idolized the Columbine shooters, referring to them as “martyrs” in a video, part of a hate-filled manifesto he mailed to police during the shooting.

Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012)

A 20-year-old man with a history of mental health issues killed his mother in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14 before blasting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Twenty children, aged six and seven, were shot dead, as well as six adults. The shooter then committed suicide.

The parents of Sandy Hook victims have led numerous campaigns to toughen gun control laws, but their efforts have largely failed.

Some conspiracy theorists insist the massacre was a government hoax, claiming the shooting involved “actors” in a plot to discredit the gun lobby.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (2018)

On February 14, a 19-year-old former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was expelled for disciplinary reasons returned to the Parkland, Florida school and opened fire.

He killed 14 students and three adult staff.

Stoneman Douglas students have become crusaders against gun violence under the banner “March for Our Lives,” lobbying for tougher gun control laws and organizing protests and rallies.

Their campaign has taken off on social media, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of young Americans.

Santa Fe High School (2018)

Ten people, including eight students, were killed when a 17-year-old student armed with a shotgun and a revolver opened fire on his classmates in rural Santa Fe, Texas.

Classes had just started on the morning of May 18 when the shooting began.

Following the tragedy Texas Governor Greg Abbott unveiled 40 recommendations, mainly focused on increasing armed security on school campuses and stepping up mental health screenings to identify troubled children.

Gun ownership can be a point of pride for many Texans, and even some Santa Fe High School students spoke out against linking the shooting to the need for better gun control.

Five Key Moments In Trump Impeachment Hearing, Day 1

US President Donald Trump talks to the media on the South Lawn upon his return to the White House by Marine One, in Washington, DC, November 3, 2019, after returning from a trip to New York. Olivier Douliery / AFP

 

During hours of detailed and at times dramatic public testimony Wednesday, two star witnesses shed light on US President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine at the heart of the impeachment inquiry against him.

American viewers finally heard firsthand from key figures in the Ukraine scandal, beginning with Washington’s top envoy to Kiev William Taylor, and deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent.

Here are five key moments in the nationally televised impeachment hearing:

New revelations

A crucial surprise came when Taylor revealed a phone call between Trump and another diplomat occurred one day after the president’s controversial July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Taylor said his staffer was with Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and overheard Trump on the call “asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations” of Democratic rival Joe Biden.

The staffer asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cared more about the investigations of Biden, which (Trump lawyer Rudy) Giuliani was pressing for,” than about Ukraine itself, Taylor added.

The revelation is important because it highlights Trump’s knowledge about the effort to get Kiev to probe the Bidens and deflates a Trump defense that he “hardly” knows Sondland, as he said last week.

Republican attacks

Republicans accused the witnesses of being out-of-touch bureaucrats too removed from Trump’s inner circle to speak authoritatively about what happened, or to know the president’s intentions.

Trump loyalist Jim Jordan, aggressively questioning Taylor, sought to paint a muddled picture of Ukrainian-related discussions, including Taylor’s communications with Sondland.

“We’ve got six people having four conversations in one sentence,” Jordan told Taylor, referring to closed-door testimony by Sondland, “and you told me this is where you got your clear understanding?”

The intelligence panel’s top Republican Devin Nunes meanwhile attempted to discredit the Democratic effort as “nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.”

Biden wrongdoing? ‘None’

In his call with Zelensky, Trump urged his counterpart to “look into” possible wrongdoing by Biden, whose son Hunter was on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma when his father was vice president.

Republicans have used that talking point to suggest the Bidens were involved in corruption. No such evidence has emerged.

When the Democratic counsel asked Kent whether there were any facts to support those allegations, Kent replied, “None whatsoever,” adding that Biden acted in accordance with official US policy.

Kent did say he raised concerns with Biden’s staff that his son’s status with Burisma “could create the perception of a conflict of interest.”

‘Irregular’ channel

Taylor spoke of an irregular channel, set up by Giuliani, that “undercut” official US policy with Ukraine while seeking to help the president politically.

Washington officially supported Ukraine receiving military aid, in particular to counter Russian aggression, but the witnesses warned that Giuliani was seeking to condition such aid with Kiev launching politically motivated investigations.

“I began to sense that the two decision-making channels — the regular and irregular — were at odds,” Taylor said.

He also said he told the administration that “withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign… would be crazy.”

Ukraine’s challenges

Often overlooked in the impeachment drama is the security situation in Ukraine, which is facing off against Russia’s military. Kiev also accuses the Kremlin of supporting pro-Moscow rebels.

Taylor reminded lawmakers and viewers that “even as we sit here today,” Ukraine is under daily attack from Russia-backed forces.

Just last week, he added, he visited the front lines on a day that a Ukrainian soldier was killed.

Had the military aid been frozen, it would have severely weakened Zelensky in negotiations with Russia and on the battlefield, Taylor said.